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OUting Club Cabin Destroyed in November Blaze: 10: 10

By Sarah Keightley
associate news editor
____A fire completely destroyed the MIT Outing Club's cabin in Bartlett, N.H., on Nov. 12. Despite early suggestions that an error made by the Delta Upsilon pledge class may have caused the fire, the New Hampshire Fire Marshal officially found the cause of the fire to be undetermined.

The undetermined ruling means the investigator is "not sure -- he may suspect something, but it can't be ruled if it was arson or accidental," said New Hampshire Deputy Fire Marshal John M. Gregoire in January.

DU's pledge class stayed in the cabin on Sunday and Monday, said DU president Erik D. Larson '92. The cabin was standing and the gas was shut off when they left, he said.

"When the DU pledge class was up there the night before, they didn't know how to turn on the gas heater," said Harold C. Payson, manager of the cabin, in an interview in December. "They didn't know they had one. They found what they thought was a wood-burning furnace and threw on some logs."

The freshmen actually lit the container for a composting toilet -- fiberglass filled with woodchips, sawdust and bacteria to allow decomposition, Payson said.

"The directions [at the cabin] said the furnace was in the basement, and it is in the basement ceiling," said Larson, who was not at the cabin. The freshmen later realized their mistake and lit the real furnace, then put out the fire in the toilet and stirred the coals.

While eating lunch the next day, one member of the group smelled burning fiberglass. They opened up the toilet and saw glowing coals, Payson said. They then poured 20 gallons of water over the coals to extinguish them. Larson said some pledges put their hands into the coals and were convinced that the fire was out. The cabin burned down the next morning.

"There wasn't much left to put out when [the fire] was discovered," said Bartlett Fire Chief Roger Labbie.

Payson added that the fire investigator told him informally there was no evidence to contradict what Larson had reported, and that the fire was not considered suspicious.

Matthew J. Cutler '95, a pledge at DU, said, "There's not a whole lot to tell. We gave our president an exact chronology, and he told everything to the Outing Club."

Insurance claims under review

Maltz said the cabin was insured and the insurance claim is being processed. "The insurance company is still processing claims, which will take another month or two," Payson said this month. Earlier, he said the insurance company may seek reimbursement from DU at the completion of its investigation.

Three Outing Club members built the cabin in 1980 on land the club owned, replacing a cabin that had burned down on that site. Maltz said it is "tough to say" what the value of the cabin was, although the materials cost $20,000 10 years ago. The cabin was used "basically every weekend," including during the summer, he said.

In December, Payson said that since there was no formal value on the cabin, a professional contractor would be sent to the site to evaluate the worth of the three-story, 1800-square-foot building.

Maltz had said that the Outing Club wanted to build a temporary structure in place of the cabin to last throughout the winter.

"No temporary structure was built, because MIT didn't want anyone going to the property," since the issue was "unresolved," Payson said. They wanted to leave the site undisturbed, and now there is too much snow on the ground to build another cabin, he said.

"Hopefully, we will be rebuilding in the summer or fall" of 1992, Maltz said in November.